The police departments of Charleston, St. Albans, Dunbar and other localities were out in full force Tuesday night.
But it wasn’t because of a big regional crime spree. They did it for community outreach.
Organizers around the country host a National Night Out the first Tuesday in August every year, aimed at giving residents of communities a chance to interact casually with first responders in their community.
Hundreds came out for the St. Albans Night Out.
“This gets folks to realize we need them to help us take back their streets and community,” said St. Albans Patrolman Bill Bass. “We need your eyes and ears,” he told attendees.
“The good thing with kids is they’re interacting with us. A lot of things that they see and they hear from other people are that the police are the bad guys. It gives us a chance to interact with them and let them know that we’re the good guys, we’re here to help them,” Bass said.
The National Night Out is not just for police to get to know the community, but firefighters and paramedics too.
Lt. Matt Lanham of the Charleston Fire Department said that bringing a smoke filled room simulator might ultimately save lives.
“The more that we can get these children to learn and recognize when the situation is bad and that they need to get out of the house, the safer the community will be,” Lanham told MetroNews.
In Dunbar, community members participated in walks across town.
“The message we are trying to send is that we are standing in support with our police department against any drug dealers in our town, any thugs in our town, anyone who wants to cause problems in our town,” said organizer Katherine McCormick.
In Charleston, emergency responders and public officials held events for citizens at Orchard Manor, Washington Manor, South Park Village and Agsten Manor.
Perhaps the meetings helped change the way people view the role of the police.
“A lot of times, I think people think how dependent the community is on the police department,” said Charleston police chief Brent Webster. “It’s really the other way around. We’re only as successful as the community allows us to be.”
The most moving of the presentations was the talk by Deanna McKinney, who lost her 18-year old son Tymel in a West Side shooting ealier this year.
“We have to come together like this all the time, not just once a year,” McKinney said. “It’s not about snitching. It’s about protecting our children.”
Great job by all the agencies involved. And organizers might take heed of Ms. McKinney’s advice to come together more than just once per year.